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Virus takes its toll
Published in Ahram Online on 18 - 08 - 2020

When Masri failed to show up for their domestic football league fixture against Ismaili, they were initially deducted three points. But on Monday, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) rescinded its decision, saying it will set a new date for the match to be replayed.
The EFA also decided to postpone Masri's other game, which was scheduled to be played on Tuesday against Ittihad of Alexandria, and additionally, bear the cost of two future Masri training camps.
Such is the confusion being created by the coronavirus.
Masri had apparently lost a game without even playing it after the club failed to show up for a league game against Ismaili, citing a depleted squad caused by the coronavirus.
Ismaili players and staff along with match day officials waited for Masri to show up at Borg Al-Arab Stadium on Friday 14 August for the traditional Suez derby. When it became evident Masri would not make an appearance, the referee blew his whistle, automatically awarding Ismaili a 2-0 win and all three points.
The Egyptian Premier League resumed two weeks ago after an almost five-month stoppage due to the coronavirus. In the first few matches the clubs quickly became overwhelmed by the huge numbers of players and coaches who had contracted the virus. Two days after the resumption, in a match between Zamalek and Masri, Masri confirmed 16 Covid-19 cases on the team, including their coach Tarek Al-Ashri.
The EFA responded by saying it would allow Masri to undergo additional virus tests, however, it refused to delay the game then, announcing that the fixture with Ismaili would go ahead as scheduled.
Following the EFA's announcement, Masri's Vice Chairman Mohamed Al-Khouli threatened to withdraw from the game due to a lack of available players in their squad.
Al-Khouli called the decision by Egypt's football governing body “unjust”.
“We won't go to the stadium to face Ismaili. We don't have 11 players and no substitutes,” Al-Khouli told OnTime Sports TV prior to the match.
“What's happening to us is very unfair. I hope that an EFA representative comes out and tells us that our decision is wrong, while explaining what we should do.
“We asked for the game to be postponed and for now we're waiting for their response. We don't even have a full squad to play the game,” he added.
The EFA took a more measured position when it not only shelved its game against Ismaili but postponed Masri's Monday clash against Haras Al-Hodood until further notice. By that time, Masri announced that 22 members at the club, including players and staff, had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
A similar no-show occurred in February when Zamalek failed to show up against Ahly, protesting that the club was playing too many games in a short time.
The White Knights were sanctioned by the EFA by being deducted three points.
Even though Masri's complaint is not the same, they were close to receiving the same punishment.
Covid-19 claimed another football scalp when Masri goalkeeper Ahmed Massoud decided to retire due to mental health issues after he was accused of spreading the coronavirus to his teammates. Massoud, 28, denied rumours that he was responsible for the spread.
“I have been accused of spreading the virus in the club after the players attended my mother's funeral two days ago,” Massoud said on TV.
“Initially, I showed the same symptoms as my teammates, but on Monday I had a coronavirus swab test, different from the one conducted by the Egyptian Football Association, and the result was negative.
“So I don't know the reason why rumours were spread of me transmitting the coronavirus to my teammates but the source is not a club official.
“My mental state is bad and I made sure to go out in public to announce that I will not continue playing football,” he added.
In league action, Ahly failed to secure three points when they faced Al-Entag Al-Harbi (military production) at home in their new stadium. Al-Entag held Ahly to only their second draw this season. Entag's striker Ahmed Afifi gave the lead to his club after VAR consultation before Amr Al-Soleya was able to equalise with a powerful first shot. The 1-1 tie gave the defending league champions Ahly, who sit atop the table, 53 points from 19 games.
On the other hand, challengers Zamalek were able to grab a difficult three points against a tough opponent Masr Al-Makassa thanks to their young talented player Hossam Ashraf who scored a late winner on the 93rd minute. The win takes Zamalek to their 38th point of the season and in second place after 19 games played.
Meanwhile, Ahly decided to end their negotiations with their star Ramadan Sobhi who has decided to play for the newborn club Pyramids FC which offered him an unmatched contract of nearly LE90 million in a three-year contract. Ahly had offered him LE58 million for the same duration.
Sobhi, 23, had informed Ahly's directors that he will sign for Pyramids, who are in third place in the league and in the semi-finals of the African Confederation Cup.
Sobhi's decision stunned Ahly fans who never expected him to desert his boyhood club. Sobhi had played in England for a few years but never another club in Egypt besides Ahly, his childhood team since he was nine.
Sobhi thus decided to team up with his former Ahly teammates Abdallah Al-Said and Ahmed Fathi who also made the move to Pyramids.
Two years ago in an interview on TV, Ramadan said that he would never wear any jersey in Egypt save Ahly's red shirt.
Ahly did reach an agreement with Ramadan's British club Huddersfield. The club accepted a bid of 3.5 million pounds sterling for the Egyptian player to be paid in three instalments. As soon as the English club knew of Ramadan's new plan to join Pyramids, they asked for 7 million sterling to sell him.
Huddersfield CEO Mark Devlin told Egyptian TV that Sobhi had informed the English club that he was no longer interested in playing for Ahly. “We were shocked that he refused Ahly's contract,” Devlin said.
“We did receive an offer for the player from Zamalek for a signing fee of 3.6 million sterling, however, the player wants to move to Pyramids, but they still need to raise their offer to be able to finalise the deal with us,” he said.
Still with Ahly, the directors of the club stated that their signing of former Zamalek striker Mahmoud Kahraba was completely legal. Cairo giants Ahly had issued a statement commenting on the FIFA ruling regarding a lawsuit between club winger Kahraba and rivals Zamalek, saying that the decision shows that Ahly's stance was valid.
Zamalek announced that FIFA had ordered Kahraba to pay LE33 million to them due to breaching his contract and fleeing the club.
Kahraba used Instagram to comment on the ruling, saying that all Zamalek's requests including a 9 million sterling fine, Kahraba's suspension for six months and the punishment of Ahly and CD Aves were rejected, with FIFA settling for a $2 million fine to be paid between Kahraba and CD Aves.
“FIFA announced the validity of Ahly's stance in the signing of Kahraba from CD Aves, and that the transfer was concluded in a legitimate way,” Ahly said in a statement.
“This came as a response to the false accusations directed by Kahraba's former club Zamalek in the matter while they know that Ahly only take the permissible routes.”
At the same time, Ahly released their long-serving goalkeeper Sherif Ekrami before the end of the season, they announced Sunday.
The 37-year-old had announced earlier this season he will leave Ahly at the end of the current season, ending a 10-year spell at the club.
Having long been the number one goalkeeper at Egypt's most successful club, it is apparent that Ekrami had become dissatisfied with falling in the pecking order to permanent international Mohamed Al-Shennawi.
It has been reported that Ekrami is close to moving to Ahly's rivals Pyramids FC.
Despite 15 games left in the current Egyptian Premier League season, and a semi-final berth in the CAF Champions League and the Egypt FA Cup, Ahly decided to let go of Ekrami sooner rather than later.
“The technical staff at Ahly, after discussing with football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz and coach Rene Weiler, have decided to continue the season with the players that participate in the training sessions and games. Therefore Abdel-Hafiz has informed Ekrami that his role at the club has come to an end today,” a statement by Ahly said.
Ekrami and his father, the legendary goalkeeper of the 1970s and 1980s and who happens to be Sobhi's father-in-law, are accused of having a big impact on Sobhi's decision to quit Ahly, which has angered Ahly fans, as the two Ekramis are considered club stalwarts.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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